Benefits of Switch Adapted Play (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a two part blog on the Benefits of Switch Adapted Play. I wrote this at the request of Janet Canning who runs the USA based website ‘apieceofthepuzzle.net’. It’s a social community website that is completely dedicated to people with special needs and disabilities. Take a look.

switch adapted toys

Which are the best toys for children with disabilities or other special needs? At Excitim we try to identify the sort of toys that can be switch adapted or made switch accessible. Adapted toys give these kids more control over how they play and switch adapted play can teach them important cognitive skills.

We look for toys that are:

  • Bright and colourful: red, green, blue or yellow or combinations of many different colours. Partially sighted children may find high contrast colours especially helpful to recognise things like on / off buttons.
  • Visible: kids with special needs often have additional sensory deficits and may not be able to see small items.
  • Tactile: sensory feedback through touching the toy may be the only way for a child to recognise important features. Selecting toys that incorporate different fabrics, roughness or moulded-in textures may be helpful for a child with limited vision.
  • Cleanable: some toys may be used by children who like to chew them or drool. Fabrics and surfaces that can be wiped clean are better and help keep the toy hygienic.
  • Provide sensory feedback to the learner: fans are used to create air flow, bubbles especially if scented with a few drops of aromatic oil, lights, sounds, vibrations etc.
Example of a toy airplance used in switch adapted play

Little People Airplane switch adapted toy

Switch adapted play

Imagine the scenario where an individual is unable to pick-up the toy or play with it, for whatever reason, in the way toy manufacturer originally intended. Sadly too many toy manufacturers’ representatives can’t grasp this concept. To make it obvious I ask them to tell me how they would turn it on if they had no hands. Unfortunately the answer is not always very comforting.

Our challenge is to overcome those ‘cool’ design features incorporated by the manufacturer in a way that lets kids with disabilities or other special needs still play with it. Switch adapted play can be the answer.

When a child starts to play with adapted toys that child also starts on a path to developing transferrable switch skills. Those same skills are essential for school work, participation in classroom discussion, computer access, interacting on social media and lots more.

Starting out with switch adapted play is a stepping stone to new things. Let’s take a closer look – stick with me.

What sort of switches?

Wired or wireless? Both are common and available in lots of different types, sizes, colours etc. I’m not going to get into what’s the best switch otherwise this blog page would easily be 10 times longer.

Preferably a toy should be controllable wirelessly – without a physical wired connection between the switch and the toy – especially if the toy, say a car, involves movement. Wire can be restricting and just gets in the way.

Example of a toy tractor and trailer used in switch adapted play

Tolo Tractor and Trailer switch adapted toy

One of the toys we adapt is a tractor and trailer set. It comes with a radio transmitter built into a switch-box and a receiver in the tractor. Pressing the switch sends a signal to the tractor telling it to go. The toy starts-up and drives forward 3 metres (as well as making sound and light effects). A wired switch connection would not work as well with this toy.

But, wired switches have a big advantage over wireless switches – they cost less and the connecting socket is generally easier to build into a toy. And, in reality, wired switches work very well with toys placed on, say, a table top. Bubble machines are a great example of this.

In Part 2 of Benefits of Switch Adapted Play I’ll be covering how toys can help increase cognitive awareness.

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